Legislation & Litigation

Libby’s Asbestos Victims Are Now Receiving Settlements

Written By:
Jan 31, 2012
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
January 31, 2012

The long wait is coming to a drawn-out end.

More than a decade after first filing a lawsuit against the state for a failure to warn them of the danger, the first batch of asbestos plaintiffs in Libby, Montana have begun receiving their portion of a $43 million settlement.

An estimated 200 of the 1,128 people named in the settlement received their payment last week, according to DailyInterLake.com.

Another 600 are close to reaching a resolution, according to their attorneys. The rest, unfortunately, must continue to wait until all the Medicare liens are satisfied.

The settlement, approved by the District Court in Helena back in September, stems from exposure at the former W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine in Libby.

Payments Vary

Payments for the victims will range from $500 to $60,000, according to court records, and depend upon the severity of the illness.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper in Montana estimated that 400 people died and another 1,700 were sickened by the asbestos at the Grace & Co. mine that closed in 1990.

Miners originally brought a suit against W.R. Grace, but the company escaped much of the liability from the extensive, community-wide contamination when it filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Negotiations and appeals continue to be discussed.

The settlement with the state still allows individuals to continue pursuing cases against W.R. Grace. The initial lawsuit against the state was filed in 2001 shortly after the bankruptcy filing. It was slowed because of numerous appeals and court rulings.

Montana Fought Claims

The state first claimed that none of its agencies had a legal obligation to provide warnings of the mine’s dangers, and lower court rulings concurred. It wasn’t until the state Supreme Court in 2004 reversed those decisions that the victims began to move forward, still slowed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court injunction.

The state finally settled the claims in September of 2011.

The mine in Libby is approximately 50 miles south of the Canadian border and produced much of the vermiculite that was used across America for home insulation, potting soil conditioner and packing material.

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that often contains asbestos, which causes a wide variety of respiratory illnesses, including mesothelioma.

The majority of the plaintiffs in the suit against the state did not work in the mines, but were either family members or just living in the community that often was blanketed in dust that came from the nearby mines. Cleanup of the site still continues today with costs soaring over $370 million.

Most of the victims who received payment last week were part of the Grace Libby Medical plan. or had private insurance that left behind no Medicare liens. Much of the state money now will go to reimburse Medicare expenses.

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